Recently, however, China's leadership seems to have developed cold feet, perhaps fearing that a free press will lead to calls for political reform. Another imperative may be the need to present a prosperous, harmonious face to the outside in the run-up to the 2008 Olympics. Either way, stories of widespread poverty, disease, brutality and corruption are becoming unwelcome. The regime is shying away from brute censorship: that would spark an international outcry. Instead, it seems to have opted for a creeping reassertion of media control, targeting certain journalists, publishers and bloggers to scare others into compliance. “China knows the most effective censorship is self-censorship,” says Nicolas Becquelin, at HRIC, a China-focused human-rights group.